A fascinating conversation about the militarization of U.S. police and their recent string of assaults on members of the black community is now underway in one of the most unlikely corners of the Internet: the Facebook page of firearms expert and former U.S. Special Force Master Sgt. Larry Vickers.
A more conservative community would seem hard to find than the one comprised of Vickers’ fans and fellow gun aficianados, but instead of defending law enforcement officers and agreeing with him, many of its members condemned the incidents and called for greater scrutiny of police. Posters repeatedly cited the recent video of police in Texas roughing up young teens at a Dallas-area pool party this month as helping to shape their views.
The apparent seachange is newsworthy.
“That cop in Texas lost his cool and pulled his weapon on children … I can’t feel good about it,” Charles Lattuca of Cleveland, Tenn., wrote in a post that received 70 likes on Vickers’ lively Facebook page. “The reason we see all this negative stuff about law enforcement is because they are doing wrong. They are unchecked. An officer anywhere can arrest you for anything they want. Now, if it’s not true the charges might be dropped, but you still have the arrest on your record.
“Cops are out to provide revenue for the counties and states,” he continued. “It’s all about money – the prison system and law enforcement agencies are out to make money. If there was no money involved then 90 percent of prisoners wouldn’t be there.”
A similar post by Roger Vasquez of San Antonio, Texas, drew 21 likes from the Vickers Facebook community, where the percentage of law enforcement officers and military veterans is significantly higher than the national average.
San Antonio is home to Fort Sam Houston and Lackland Air Force Base. It’s nicknamed “Military City USA” because of the large number of both active duty and retired members of the armed forces living there.
“Maybe what this country needs to see is less of the comradery, ‘thin blue line’ BS and more accountability for these bad apples,” wrote Vasquez, whose main Facebook page picture bears the slogan: “I don’t want you to think like me, I just want you to think.”
Posters railed against the recent spate of other recorded incidents of police misconduct and alleged misconduct, which have focused public concern on the militarization of U.S. police forces and their treatment of blacks.
Like the fatal shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina in April; the fatal chokehold NYPD officers applied to Eric Garner in New York City in July 2014 during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes; the November shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland; and the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Marton in 2012 by an over-busy neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla.
All of the victims were black. None of them were armed or initiated the fatal confrontations.
Vickers portrayed police as the victims of the public backlash that followed those events in his remarks. The media personality also suggested that we risk living in the kind of lawless lands where he was deployed as a Special Forces operator if incidents of police misconduct continue to be critically discussed in the public forum. He described those areas as “Mad Maxville,”
“You’ve got to understand, these people are our first line of defense to keep the scumbags away from our door – it’s the Thin Blue Line,” Vickers said. “Yeah, there’s bad cops out there, just like there’s bad military personnel and there’s bad civilians, (but) to constantly highlight negativity in the law enforcement sector is not good for anybody.”
Vickers’ Facebook page has more than 117,000 members and his views in the police support video garnered plenty of supporters. That’s no surprise on a page he runs, which identifies him as a “public figure” and is loaded with content specifically crafted to support his image as a beloved and knowledgeable icon of the weapons owning community.
However, at least a third of their comments were critical of police, Vickers’ call for less public scrutiny of them, or both. And that is significant given the venue – on one of most gun loving pages on the Internet.
“We need the good cops to speak out and take care of the bad cops,” Daniel Streckfuss wrote in a post that received 170 likes. “Stop allowing the police unions to protect the incompetent officers that are a detriment to the profession. When officers and agencies repeatedly profess that an officer acted appropriately only to have that claim countered by witness video, the problem is within the Thin Blue Line. We need you to take care of your own.”
Mark Daniel Esparza of Tucson said he was concerned by what he was seeing.
“How many guys have to get shot before you say, hey, there might be a problem?” he wrote in a post that received 33 likes. “How do we get the bad cops the help they need? … I support law enforcement but I am concerned.”
The 6,900 people who “liked” Vickers’ video represented barely a third of the number who chose to share it. An unusually low ratio for his page.
Nick Christopher was one of those who took issue with Vickers’ claim that police are being unfairly questioned due to an attitude of distrust created by revenue hungry news organizations like this one.
“The attitude spreading across our country?” Christopher asked rhetorically of Vickers in a post receiving 83 likes. “You mean the awareness that’s finally taking place about the abuse of power and corruption that’s been infecting our law enforcement for decades? I’m sorry, I know there’s a lot of good cops out there, but let’s not kid ourselves. A lot of our police force has been corrupt and abusive for quite a while now… I know there’s a lot of good cops out there, but when I look around I don’t see much of a backbone or integrity.”
The posts illustrated how poorly the “occupation force” mentality Vickers has brought home from his foreign military deployments plays with many of his fellow Americans when it’s injected into civilian law enforcement agencies. Some now see police as placing themselves in an elevated social caste, alongside politicians and bankers.
“I disagree with you whole heartedly,” wrote Derek Butler, whose post got 19 likes from Vickers’ Facebook community. “I’ve had mostly negative experiences with police interactions… Cops have become glorified revenue agents who conduct harassment operations against the population. They serve the political class, not the people.
“Many also apparently have hair triggers and violence issues. They are corrupt to the core in many cases, even working with cartels. Not to mention the frequent and blatant disregard for constitutional rights. They have earned their bad name. It’s up to them to fix it. It is also my right to judge those set above me by politicians.”
The posts were clearly fueled by both personal experience and the emotionally jarring videos that have captured police using lethal force against black Americans in recent years. They’ve sparked calls for greater scrutiny of the way these public servants deal with the very fellow Americans they’re supposed to protect and serve.
The Scott shooting is now playing a key role in a push to equip all officers in South Carolina with body cameras. Meanwhile, the fatal shooting by police of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August and the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore in April have both triggered widespread protests and federal investigations.
Garner’s last words – “I can’t breath” – have become an Internet meme along with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” They’ve also become a rallying cry for a Civil Rights movement that seemed to falter in the wake of the brutal police response to the Occupy Wall Street movement against predatory elites that began in 2011 and 2012. The unlawful attacks and arrests of those nonviolent protesters have yielded one settlement after another from the City of New York in the courts.
“I agree (that) we need to support our officers, but the problem in that community is the lack of policing themselves,” wrote Thomas Fuller. “There are too many cases of cops allowing other cops to get away with things.
“The public has lost a lot of confidence in our law enforcement agencies because of the high profile shootings of unarmed civilians and the way they treat different communities,” Fuller said. “It’s gotten to a point where even communities that normally don’t have issues with the police are starting to have trust issues with them. Until the police really police themselves and treat each community with the same respect they’ll always have issues like they’re having now…
“If you had gone to Honduras with the same mentality and mindset of these officers you would have never accomplished your mission,” Fuller told Vickers. “I tell all my cop buddies the same thing — police your own and the community will trust and back you again.”
Jullian Preston-Powers said that police in Europe have a much less adversarial approach with the communities they serve and it works better.
“If we arrest someone, we do not slam them to the ground and push whole body weights on top of them or shoot them,” he wrote iin his post. “We don’t even routinely put handcuffs on suspects. We simply put them in the back of the car, unhandcuffed and with no cage (and we have no guns), and when they get to the station they are given a cup of tea and something to eat.”
The actual percentage of posters opposed to Vickers’ message was hard to define because the persons maintaining his Facebook page deleted some critical comments from the otherwise fertile intellectual exchange. Including one by yours truly which took issue with Vicker’s attempts to blame law enforcement’s image problems on the media.
“It’s a very sad situation and people need to be smart enough to know that the media is always going to put a negative slant on it because that’s what draws attention,” Vickers said in the video.
That’s just not true in my experience as a journalism lifer with 34 years in the field. In fact, the situation is almost exactly the opposite, with the vast majority of police misconduct going unreported.
Vickers may be a helluva soldier, gunsmith, marksman and self promoter, but he doesn’t know diddly about the key role sources play in the careers of beat reporters in the news industry and the largely symbiotic relationship between them.
Here’s part of the post which was removed:
“I can tell you from experience that there are an awful lot of incidents of police misconduct stories that go unreported,” I wrote. “You just can’t write a whole bunch of negative stories if you’re one of 25 cop reporters at different TV stations and newspapers competing for the same stuff in the same market. Because the cops will never call you when something happens and you’ll get beat again and again.”
In other words, the problem of police misconduct might be a lot bigger than Vickers and those like him realize.
When you adopt a zero tolerance approach to your own countrymen and women, our current police state is what it looks like. The brutality we’re seeing reflects the greenlight this adversarial approach communicates to the small percentage of law enforcement officers who are always on the muscle and too quick to escalate situations instead of defusing them.
The result is a climate where we all feel as if we’re living in occupied territory. Instead of the home of the free and the land of the brave.
Bottom line: it sounds to me as if the folks on Vickers’ page are saying we don’t need to be this safe and that it’s time to put the gloves back on. At least with our own countrymen and women.